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szotz (2505808) writes "There's a lot of skepticism swirling around NASA's plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030's, not to mention all those private missions. If we want to have sustainable (read: not bank-breaking) space exploration, the argument goes, there's no way we can do it the way we've been going to the moon and low-Earth orbit. We have to find a way to exploit space resources and cut down on the amount of stuff we need to launch from Earth. That's not a new idea. But this article in IEEE Spectrum suggests research on resource extraction and fabrication in low and zero gravity might actually be making progress...and that we could take these technologies quite far if we get our act together."
tlhIngan (30335) writes "Last week we heard that Amazon was withdrawing Hachette books from its virtual shelves including allowing preorders of the new JK Rowling book. Amazon has responded to these allegations, and confirms that yes, they are purposefully preventing pre-orders and lowering stock in order to get a better deal from Hachette. Amazon recommends that in the meantime, customers either buy a used or new copy from their zShops or buy from a competitor. Amazon admits there is nothing wrong with Hachette's business dealings and that they are a generally good supplier." Here's Hachette's response to the Amazon statement.
astroengine (1577233) writes "Could ET be chatting with colleagues or robots on sister planets in its solar system? Maybe so, say scientists who last year launched a new type of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, project to eavesdrop on aliens. Using data collected by NASA's Kepler space telescope, a team of scientists spent 36 hours listening in when planets in targeted solar systems lined up, relative to Earth's perspective, in hopes of detecting alien interplanetary radio signals. "We think the right strategy in SETI is a variety of strategies. It's really hard to predict what other civilizations might be doing," Dan Werthimer, director of SETI research at the University of California Berkeley, told Discovery News. So far the search hasn't turned up any artificial signals yet, but this marks a change in strategy for radio searches for ETI with Kepler data taking a focused lead."
Z80xxc! (1111479) writes "Today at the first annual Code Conference, Microsoft demonstrated its new real-time translation in Skype publicly for the first time. Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft's VP of Skype and Lync, compares the technology to Star Trek's Universal Translator. During the demonstration, Pall converses in English with a coworker in Germany who is speaking German. 'Skype Translator results from decades of work by the industry, years of work by our researchers, and now is being developed jointly by the Skype and Microsoft Translator teams. The demo showed near real-time audio translation from English to German and vice versa, combining Skype voice and IM technologies with Microsoft Translator, and neural network-based speech recognition.'"
SimonTheSoundMan writes: "Apple has confirmed it will buy Beats Electronics and Beats Music for $3 billion. Apple will make the purchase using $2.6 billion in cash and $400 million in stock. An important part of the acquisition for Apple is absorbing the Beats subscription streaming service, even though it only has about 110k users. The Beats brand will remain intact, and will continue to sell headphones. "
crookedvulture writes "In an article published by Forbes earlier this week, AMD lashed out at NVIDIA's GameWorks program, which includes Watch Dogs and other popular titles, such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin's Creed IV, and Batman: Arkham Origins. Technical communications lead for PC graphics Robert Hallock alleged that GameWorks deliberately cripples performance on AMD hardware. He also claimed that developers are prevented from working with AMD on game optimizations. The Forbes piece was fairly incriminating, but it didn't include any commentary from the other side of the fence. NVIDIA has now responded to the allegations, and as one might expect, it denies them outright. Director of engineering for developer technology Cem Cebenoyan says NVIDIA has never barred developers from working with AMD. In fact, he claims that AMD's own developer relations efforts have prevented NVIDIA from getting its hands on early builds of some games. AMD has said in the past that it makes no effort to prevent developers from working with NVIDIA. So, we have another round of he said, she said, with gamers caught in the middle and performance in newer titles hanging in the balance."
Several readers sent word that the website for TrueCrypt, the popular disk encryption system, says that development has ended, and Windows users should switch to BitLocker. A notice on the site reads, "WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues. ... You should migrate any data encrypted by TrueCrypt to encrypted disks or virtual disk images supported on your platform." It includes a link to a new version of TrueCrypt, 7.2, and provides instructions on how to migrate to BitLocker. Many users are skeptical of a site defacement, and there's been no corroborating post or communication from the maintainers. However, the binaries appear to be signed with the same GPG key that the TrueCrypt Foundation used for previous releases. A source code diff of the two versions has been posted, and the new release appears to simply remove much of what the software was designed to do. It also warns users away from relying on it for security. (The people doing an audit of TrueCrypt had promised a 'big announcement' soon, but that was coincidental.) Security experts are warning to avoid the new version until the situation can be verified.
Bunnie Huang is both a hardware and software hacker, but that's greatly understating the case: renaissance man is more like it. Bunnie doesn't just tinker with one-off system modifications or console mods (though he's done that, too) -- he creates and repurposes at scale. (He's also an author, respected researcher with interesting thoughts on a wide range of topics, like how to think of the H1N1 flu from the point of view of a security researcher.) Bunnie's latest long-term project has been mentioned a few times on Slashdot: It's an open-source laptop computer that goes much farther than some other open-source hardware projects, and as a bonus includes an FPGA as well as a conventional -- but unusual -- processor. (Bunnie grants that there are still bits that aren't quite open source, but points out that we also don't have the software that runs the fabs; there's a point of diminishing returns.) A crowd funding campaign (via CrowdSupply) was successful enough to also fund several stretch goals, including a general purpose breakout board. I talked with Bunnie at the recent Bay Area Maker Faire. (Expect more from that show in coming weeks.) He walked us through the state of the hardware, and talked about some of the design decisions that go into making a computer that is of, by, and for hackers. (Alternate video link)
itwbennett writes: "Half a billion lines of code for a transactional website — more than five times as much code as that behind OS X — just didn't pass the sniff test. But just how many lines of code does it take to generate HealthCare.gov? This question came up on Reddit again last week and it appears that we may now have an answer. One commenter who claimed to have worked on HealthCare.gov as part of the post launch clean-up crew at the end of 2013, provided counts of the lines of code behind HealthCare.gov, broken down by programming/markup language."
malachiorion writes: "Is machine sentience not only possible, but inevitable? Of course not. But don't tell that to devotees of the Singularity, a theory that sounds like science, but is really just science fiction repackaged as secular prophecy. I'm not simply arguing that the Singularity is stupid — people much smarter than me have covered that territory. But as part of my series of stories for Popular Science about the major myths of robotics, I try to point out the Singularity's inescapable sci-fi roots. It was popularized by a SF writer, in a paper that cites SF stories as examples of its potential impact, and, ultimately, it only makes sense when you apply copious amounts of SF handwavery. The article explains why SF has trained us to believe that artificial general intelligence (and everything that follows) is our destiny, but we shouldn't confuse an end-times fantasy with anything resembling science."
PvtVoid writes: "Jeopardy champion Arthur Chu pens a heartfelt takedown of misogyny in nerd culture: 'I’ve heard and seen the stories that those of you who followed the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter have seen—women getting groped at cons, women getting vicious insults flung at them online, women getting stalked by creeps in college and told they should be "flattered." I’ve heard Elliot Rodger’s voice before. I was expecting his manifesto to be incomprehensible madness—hoping for it to be—but it wasn’t. It’s a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder. I've heard it from acquaintances, I've heard it from friends. I've heard it come out of my own mouth, in moments of anger and weakness.
What the f*$# is wrong with us? How much longer are we going to be in denial that there's a thing called "rape culture" and we ought to do something about it? ... To paraphrase the great John Oliver, listen up, fellow self-pitying nerd boys — we are not the victims here. We are not the underdogs. We are not the ones who have our ownership over our bodies and our emotions stepped on constantly by other people's entitlement. We're not the ones where one out of six of us will have someone violently attempt to take control of our bodies in our lifetimes.'"
Bennett Haselton writes: "In March I asked why Netflix doesn't offer their rental DVD service in 'virtual DVD' form -- where you can 'check out' a fixed number of 'virtual DVDs' per month, just as you would with their physical DVDs by mail, but by accessing the 'virtual DVDs' in streaming format so that you could watch them on a phone or a tablet or a laptop without a DVD drive. My argument was that this is an interesting, non-trivial question, because it seems Netflix and (by proxy) the studios are leaving cash on the table by not offering this as an option to DVD-challenged users. I thought some commenters' responses raised questions that were worth delving into further." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "As part of a 50th anniversary celebration, IEEE Spectrum magazine tries to peer into the technological future 50 years out. Its biomedical article foresees the integration of electronic parts into our human bodies, making up for physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities. The article spotlights the visionaries Hugh Herr, an MIT professor (and double amputee) who wants to build prosthetic limbs that are wired directly into the nervous system; Helen Mayberg, who has developed brain pacemakers to cure depression; and Ted Berger, who's working on neural implants that can restore memory function."
1sockchuck (826398) writes "Google has begun using machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze the oceans of data it collects about its server farms and recommend ways to improve them. Google data center executive Joe Kava said the use of neural networks will allow Google to reach new frontiers in efficiency in its server farms, moving beyond what its engineers can see and analyze. Google's data centers aren't yet ready to drive themselves. But the new tools have been able to predict Google's data center performance with 99.96 percent accuracy."
sfcrazy (1542989) writes "Developers need access to device running the platform for which they develop. Nexus was Google's reference device and now Mozilla is coming out with its own device. Mozilla has opened pre-order for Flame, its Firefox OS reference devices for $170 including free shipping." Specs are, of course, modest: a dual core 1.2GHz snapdragon, 1G of RAM, 8G of flash, an 854×480 4.5" screen, and a 5MP camera. Now, if only they would release a device with a keyboard.
jfruh (300774) writes "The revelations about the NSA's surveillance program caused particular outrage in Germany, a country that is closely allied with the United States but nevertheless found that its leader's cell phone was being snooped on. Nevertheless, the German federal prosecutor's office will not be bringing any charges against anyone, mostly because they lack enough evidence (Google translation). The decision is sparking anger among German privacy advocates."
lpress (707742) writes "Amazon's Kindle is a good e-reader and they've sold around 40 million units, but it is far from perfect. It could be significantly improved with speech recognition for commands and text entry, a well-designed database for marginal notes and annotations, and integration with laptop and desktop computers. Google, Apple and Microsoft all have device design and manufacturing experience as well as stores that sell books and other written material. A Kindle-killing e-reader would be low-hanging fruit for Apple, Google or Microsoft — think of the competition if they each built one!" Handwriting as an input method would be nice too; a friend in college had one of the experimental Windows XP tablet PCs, and it was great for note taking and document annotation.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Researchers have unearthed the earliest evidence of a bird sipping nectar from a flower. The stomach contents of the 47-million-year-old fossil flyer — a long-extinct species of perching bird — include hundreds of grains of pollen. The ancient pollen grains are large and apparently clumped together readily, a clue that the plant that bore the flowers was pollinated by creatures and not by the wind."
tcd004 (134130) writes "You've always suspected those trailer-type portable classrooms are no good, right? It turns out you're right. Analysis of prefabricated classrooms in Washington shows the structures often don't allow for proper ventilation, leading to terrible air quality for kids. Students in temporary classrooms have higher rates of absenteeism than those in standard classrooms. And the energy-inefficient structures often become permanent, sucking on school energy bills for decades, and requiring more upkeep than permanent classrooms. What's needed are new designs for healthy, sustainable temporary classrooms."
First time accepted submitter SpaceMika (867804) writes "We just saw something bright in the Andromeda Galaxy, and we don't know what it was. A Gamma Ray Burst or an Ultraluminous X-Ray Object, either way it will be the closest of its type we've ever observed at just over 2 million light years away. It's the perfect distance: close enough to observe in unprecedented detail, and far enough to not kill us all."
cold fjord writes: "Dan Kahan at the Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project says, 'Because imparting basic comprehension of science in citizens is so critical to enlightened democracy, it is essential that we develop valid measures of it, so that we can assess and improve the profession of teaching science to people. ... The National Science Foundation has been engaged in the project of trying to formulate and promote such a measure for quite some time. A few years ago it came to the conclusion that the item "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," shouldn't be included when computing "science literacy." The reason was simple: the answer people give to this question doesn't measure their comprehension of science. People who score at or near the top on the remaining portions of the test aren't any more likely to get this item "correct" than those who do poorly on the remaining portions. What the NSF's evolution item does measure, researchers have concluded, is test takers' cultural identities, and in particular the centrality of religion in their lives.' Kahan also had a previous, related post on the interaction between religiosity and scientific literacy."
An anonymous reader writes "The PHP Group has put up a post about the future of PHP. They say, 'Over the last year, some research into the possibility of introducing JIT compilation capabilities to PHP has been conducted. During this research, the realization was made that in order to achieve optimal performance from PHP, some internal API's should be changed. This necessitated the birth of the phpng branch, initially authored by Dmitry Stogov, Xinchen Hui, and Nikita Popov. This branch does not include JIT capabilities, but rather seeks to solve those problems that prohibit the current, and any future implementation of a JIT capable executor achieving optimal performance by improving memory usage and cleaning up some core API's. By making these improvements, the phpng branch gives us a considerable performance gain in real world applications, for example a 20% increase in throughput for Wordpress. The door may well now be open for a JIT capable compiler that can perform as we expect, but it's necessary to say that these changes stand strong on their own, without requiring a JIT capable compiler in the future to validate them.'"
An anonymous reader writes "In 1970, Russian physicist Vitaly Efimov developed mathematical proof (PDF) that any three-particle substance, referred to as a trimer, will scale up or down in size by a factor of 22.7 and that if the particles are not all of the same type, 'the scaling factor of 22.7 decreases according to the particles' relative masses.' In 2006, physicists in Austria proved that Efimov's trimers can be created in laser-cooled environments. And now, in 2014, physicists in Austria, Germany, and the U.S. have physical proof that Efimov's trimers do indeed scale by a factor of 22.7 if they are comprised of the same particles or a lower ratio relative to their particles' masses if they are comprised of a mixture of different particles (abstract 1, abstract 2, abstract 3). 22.7 — a.k.a., the rule of three — now appears to be as significant as pi."
cartechboy writes: "We've already discussed and maybe even come to terms with the fact that autonomous cars are coming. In fact, many automakers including Mercedes-Benz and Tesla have committed to self-driving cars by 2017. Apparently that's not ambitious enough. Google has just unveiled an in-house-designed, self-driving car prototype with no steering wheel or pedals. In fact, it doesn't have any traditional controls, not even a stereo. The as-yet-nameless car is a testbed for Google's vision of the computerized future of transportation. Currently the prototype does little more than programmed parking lot rides at a maximum of 25 mph, but Google plans to build about 100 prototypes, with the first examples receiving manual controls (human-operated). Google then plans to roll out the pilot program in California in the next several years. So the technology is now there, but is there really a market for a car that drives you without your input other than the destination?"
sciencehabit writes: "Cultures around the world have long assumed that women are hardwired to be mothers. But a new study (abstract) suggests that caring for children awakens a parenting network in the brain—even turning on some of the same circuits in men as it does in women. The research implies that the neural underpinnings of the so-called maternal instinct aren't unique to women, or activated solely by hormones, but can be developed by anyone who chooses to be a parent."